Ulysse Nardin Revives a Lost Art
By Roberta Naas
Each Ulysse Nardin Classico Dragon is a unique, hand-painted masterpiece.
In one of the more notable moves by a Swiss watch brand lately, Ulysse Nardin has acquired the family-owned Donzé Cadrans watch dial-enameling company—a step that both preserves an ancient art form and ensures the continued growth of both firms. “The acquisition maintains our strategy of continuity and vertical production, while reflecting our heritage and the tradition of our manufacture,” says Patrik Hoffmann, CEO of Ulysse Nardin. Over the past few decades, Ulysse Nardin has worked closely with the dial enameler to craft some of the industry’s most stunning creations, including its San Marco Cloisonné, Safari Minute Repeater, and Jungle Minute Repeater dials. Bringing the enamel dialmaking company under its own umbrella makes Ulysse Nardin one of a handful of watch brands in the world that own a dial-enameling shop outright.
|Enamel painting is done with a brush of just a single or double hair.|
Enamel work is one of the most cherished feats in watch-making. In fact, a single cloisonné enamel dial can require up to 54 processes, more than a dozen baking operations, and hundreds of working hours. Enamel is a soft glass composed of silica, red lead, and soda that, when mixed with other elements, is capable of producing intense hues with alluring depth. Colors are created by crushing the stones and mixing the enamel with different elements, such as iron (which creates yellow, green, and brown hues), chromium (offering green tones), and copper (unleashing hues of blue, green, and red).
In their paint formats, the colors can’t really be blended, and so each time a color is brushed onto a dial, it must be fired in a kiln at a temperature of more than 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. A single watch dial may undergo dozens of paintings and firings before completion, depending on the depicted scene’s depth and complexity. Every firing brings with it a new fear of damage, as bubbles can appear, a single speck of dust could fall, or the colors could burn off improperly— all causing the dial to be lost and the enameler to have to begin all over again.
Several types of enamel work exist, including cloisonné (wherein strips of gold outline the painting), spangle (gold foil or decorations are laid into the enamel), and flinqué, a sunray pattern achieved via consistent turning of the dial during painting. Perhaps the most coveted, however, is a simple, freehand painting for which the artist creates his or her own technique in order to develop a signature look and feel. Among the newest Ulysse Nardin enameled-dial watches is the Classico Dragon. In this piece, the brand honors the mythical creature—a legendary symbol of success and prosperity—by giving it a fiery appearance in bright orange and yellow against a rich blue dial that is the brand’s distinctive signature color.
Each dial is an exceptional creation produced by a skilled artisan with an incredibly steady hand, and therefore, each Classico Dragon is totally unique. Ulysse Nardin is producing just 88 pieces in 18k white gold and 88 in 18k rose gold. Each watch houses a magnificently etched and finished self-winding, COSC-certified chronometer movement, which can be viewed through a sapphire caseback. H&H Jewels, 3434 Main Hwy., Coconut Grove, 305-442-9760; ulysse-nardin.com
Go behind the scenes with Elle Macpherson during her Ocean Drive photo shoot.